Billboard advertising is a form of advertising where ads are plastered onto large surface areas to increase visibility and exposure. Billboards are put along highways and major city streets to catch the attention of drivers and pedestrians. These advertisements are usually very visual so as to leave a lasting impression on the viewer's mind. Any advertisement that targets drivers will feature a quick, easy-to-read slogan. The colors will often be bright so as to catch more attention. Companies that often advertise on billboards include fast-food chains, cell-phone companies, car manufacturers and banks.
The website for the billboard company Clear Channel Outdoor proclaims, "Outdoor advertising is great because you can't turn it off, throw it away, or click on the next page. That means your message is reaching consumers everywhere -- all the time, everyday." Drivers on long stretches of highway are most susceptible to the messages on billboards as they are more prone to needing distraction. Cities with highly concentrated pedestrian activity such as New York City will feature large-scale billboards. Many groups have protested against the plethora of billboards for aesthetic reasons, arguing that billboards destroy the scenic environment and are manifestations of visual pollution. Other groups maintain that billboards harm the mental and moral well-being of viewers. As early as 1911, a court ruling deemed billboards as "inartistic and unsightly." The United States Supreme Court ruled in 1981 that billboards "by their very nature, wherever located and however constructed, can be perceived as an esthetic harm."
As more and more people took to the roads, so did advertising companies. Countrysides became prime locations for billboard advertising; areas that were once exclusively rural became commercial. Early on, these advertisements featured scenes of beautiful landscapes and places of historical and local interest so as to promote more driving. Many billboards offer practical information, directing drivers to nearby gas stations, motels and restaurants. During the 1930s, cars became faster, allowing for less time for drivers to look at and read billboards. In response, billboards featured quick, witty logos that drivers could easily read and remember. Billboards became conceptual symbols and advertisement evolved in both style and meaning. Many people thought billboard advertisements ruined the scenery and atmosphere of countryside roads. The Federal Highway Beautification Act of 1965 threatened to cut federal transportation funding to states that failed to monitor billboards. As a result, billboards became more concentrated in urban commercial and industrial zones across America.
Compared to advertising via television, radio and print, which has become increasingly more expensive, billboard advertising has proven to be the most cost-effective channel for advertising products. Billboards along the South Superhighway are viewed by millions of people every day. Advertising industries have taken advantage of the exposure billboards offer. In 2006, the alcohol industry spent $186 million on billboard advertisements. These outdoor alcohol advertisements associate alcohol with financial success, social acceptance, sexual attraction, youth and power. Advertisers target the youth market, which is most susceptible to these suggestions. Areas that featured these types of advertisements saw a rise in alcohol consumption, particularly amongst teenagers. Cities such as Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland and San Diego have formed coalitions to enforce restrictions over local alcohol advertising or to ban them outright. In 2000, the San Diego City Council sanctioned an ordinance that outlawed alcohol billboards within 1,000 feet of schools, daycare centers, playgrounds, public libraries and recreation centers. States such as Vermont, Hawaii, Alaska and Maine have completely banned billboards.
For years, tobacco companies used billboard advertisements to promote their products. These companies consistently denied that they were targeting a young market until 1997, when the Liggett Group admitted to targeting underage youth. FDA regulations came into effect, prohibiting cigarette billboard advertisements within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds. Once tobacco advertising was banned on radio and television, tobacco companies pushed all of their advertising into billboards and magazine ads. The tobacco industry received a huge blow in 1999 when all cigarette billboard advertisements were replaced with anti-smoking messages that parodied the previous cigarette advertisement campaigns and slogans.